Notre Dame will promote defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman as the program’s next head coach, moving quickly to fill the spot left vacant by Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure for LSU on the eve of the final weekend of the regular season.
Freeman, 35, is completing his first season as coordinator after holding the same role at Purdue and Cincinnati.
The former Ohio State linebacker led a defense that rebounded from a sluggish start to the regular season to pace Notre Dame’s charge toward the College Football Playoff. The Irish outscored four opponents 162-23 in November and were ranked sixth in this week’s playoff rankings.
“It is an honor to be named the head coach of Notre Dame Football,” Freeman said. “I am eternally grateful to both Father John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for giving me the opportunity to lead the exceptional men who make this program what it is. Notre Dame is a very special place and I look forward to pursuing a national championship with the most outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff in college football.”
Promoting from within the existing staff speaks to the administration’s faith in the direction of the program even without Kelly, who left this week as the winningest coach in program history. Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees announced that he would not be following Kelly to LSU and would remain with the Irish.
Known as a very effective recruiter, a defense-minded coach able to relay and implement complex schemes and a strong communicator with the ability to connect with recruits and players, Freeman has been widely viewed as one of the rising stars in the profession.
He now takes over one of the premier coaching jobs in college sports.
There will be questions about his lack of experience. He is the youngest Notre Dame coach since 25-year-old Terry Brennan was hired in 1954; only one other coach, Ara Parseghian in 1964, was younger than 40 when arriving in South Bend.
He is also only now completing a decade as a full-time assistant coach, having quickly transitioned from a brief NFL career into a role as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 2010. Freeman then spent two years as the linebackers coach at Kent State, four years at Purdue and four years at Cincinnati.
But he received loud and vocal support from the current roster, who posted support on social media for a coach who while new to the program made a clear impact for a team battling for a playoff berth.
Promoting from within the staff might play a role in Notre Dame’s playoff odds. Those seemed to take a hit on Tuesday evening, when playoff committee chairman Gary Barta implied that a team without a permanent coach might be viewed differently by the committee.
But the Irish could again be considered a contender for a spot in the semifinals should a path open, with both coordinators under Kelly still holding major roles.
Freeman is the second Black head coach in program history, following Ty Willingham, who went 21-15 from 2002-04 before being fired.
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